You might have read my blog post about how to listen to criticism without taking it personally. And maybe you thought, “Hey, wait a minute. I don’t deserve to be criticized! No one has a right to talk to me that way!”
That means you have a boundary. Many of us think we need to act cold in order to assert a boundary, but there’s a way to speak and hold your boundaries with love. Then you feel empowered without continuing the argument.
First of all, what are boundaries?
I like to think about a relationship as a Venn Diagram. Don’t worry; it’s simple 🙂 The two circles represent you and your partner.
What we DO have control over goes in our circle and what we don’t have control over goes in the other person’s circle. In the middle, we share a loving relationship, where we collaborate on how we give to and receive from each other.
So what do we have control over?
Our own feelings, attitudes and beliefs, behaviors, choices, values, limits, thoughts, and desires.
We don’t have control over our partner’s feelings, attitudes and beliefs, behaviors, choices, values, limits, thoughts, and desires.
In a healthy relationship, we don’t tell someone else how to be, behave, feel, eat, dress, load the dishwasher, etc.
But just because you can’t change what they’re doing; that doesn’t mean you have to be around it.
So a healthy boundary is what you’re not willing to do or be around. And you can request something different.
For example, what if your partner yells when s/he gets angry, and you’re not willing to be around that?
What most of us do is make them wrong for yelling, and tell them not to yell, which is telling them what to do, and they’ll get more angry.
Remember, a boundary is what you will and won’t do; not what they can or can’t do.
So what do we do instead?
You can say, “This doesn’t feel good. I feel really small right now. Can you lower your tone of voice?” [this a request, not a demand]
If s/he doesn’t, you can say, “I want to hear you. I’m going to leave the room and we can talk later when we can have a calm conversation.”
Or if your partner criticizes you, you can say, “Ouch. I want to hear you, but I’m not ok with that language. Can you talk about how you feel and what you want instead of labeling me?”
If you can give him/her eye contact and talk in a soft voice, he/she won’t have anything to fight against.
Of course, if you feel attacked, you don’t have to do anything but leave; put your own safety first. But if you don’t feel physically or emotionally attacked, you can leave the room without closing your heart.
In general, to create a boundary, you can say:
“I feel _________________________”
“I don’t want/I’m not going to_______________________” or “__________________ doesn’t work for me.”
[If you don’t need to leave the room] “Can we come up with a solution that works for both of us?”
This is powerful because we’re not telling the other person what to do, so it won’t escalate an argument.
Here are some questions to help you figure out your boundaries:
Where are you either giving too much and feeling resentful, or not asking for what you need?
Where are you trying to control your partner’s behavior?
What boundaries do you want to create?
I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below 🙂